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Fueling the next generation of America's skilled workers

​Laura Coy

​Many businesses that rely on skilled workers report difficulty finding qualified individuals to fill open jobs. In fact, skilled trades have been the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff for the last three years, according to ManpowerGroup

Partnerships that help align the skill needs of businesses with the training offered by community colleges are a solution to build a stronger workforce, but many don’t know where to start.

October is “Skilled Trades Awareness Month,” a time when Grainger, the leading broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products serving businesses and institutions, invites the nation to honor, celebrate and raise the visibility of the skilled trades. To kick off the month, Grainger has launched an interactive skilled trades playbook called “Dynamic Partnerships for a New Economy” that connects businesses and community colleges in an effort to boost local workforce development.

A playbook for partnership

The Playbook, developed in partnership with Skills for America’s Future, serves as a one-stop, how-to guide with tips, best practices and other tools to help businesses and community colleges work together to train and advance workers in the industrial skilled trades.

Visit to download the full Skilled Trades Playbook and learn more about the skills gap challenge. 

“Employers no longer have the luxury of remaining on the sidelines,” said Jim Ryan, chairman, president and CEO of Grainger. “Grainger is committed to promoting the importance of jobs in the industrial skilled trades, and this Playbook offers practical solutions to help close the growing skills gap.”  

Not your grandfather’s skilled trades

The Playbook concept was born out of the “Partnerships in Practice” event sponsored by Grainger at the Aspen Institute this February, where business leaders, community college presidents and workforce experts discussed the reality and scope of the skills gap, the challenges they face, and how businesses and schools can work together to prepare the workforce.

Many business leaders say that part of the challenge in finding trained workers comes from the misperceptions of the skilled trades industry, with people picturing skilled trade jobs as they looked 40 or 50 years ago. For example, according to the Manufacturing Institute, 82 percent of Americans think we should invest more in manufacturing, but only 35 percent would encourage their children to go into manufacturing as a career.

To promote the innovation and importance of careers in the industrial skilled trades, Grainger, in partnership with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), launched the Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarship program in 2006 to help students in the industrial skilled trades realize their educational and career goals. This year, Grainger will award Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarships to 129 students at 70 community colleges in the U.S., with half of the scholarships targeted to U.S. armed forces veterans. Upon graduation, each student receives a customized tool-kit from Grainger to jump start their career.

“Community colleges are the nation’s training ground for careers in the skilled trades and play a vital role in providing education and career paths for students and workers,” said AACC President and CEO Walter Bumphus. “We are proud of our partnership with Grainger and salute the Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarship winners who will make a difference in our communities through a skilled trade.” 

Offering a helping hand

Grainger Tools for Tomorrow scholarship recipient Jacob Foster is a mechanical engineering design and manufacturing student at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College (Ohio) and is proud to be studying a skilled trade.

“I decided to go to a community college due to smaller class sizes and the chance to be more than just another face in the crowd,” Foster said. “My field of study has become second natureI am fascinated by the concept of taking a drawing and transforming it into a finished product. I was paying for my college tuition out of pocket and winning this scholarship means that I will be able to put more time aside for my studies.”

For a full list of scholarship winners and to learn more about Grainger’s commitment to the industrial skilled trades, visit:

Grainger will celebrate the skilled trades throughout Skilled Trades Awareness Month and beyond. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #skilledtrades.

Coy is a senior manager of corporate social responsibility at Grainger, which is a member of AACC’s Corporate Council. The council is an advisory arm of the association’s Corporate Program that provides an open dialogue between AACC board members and corporate leaders representing diverse industries.

(Below) Grainger Tools for Tomorrow winner Don Stein, a graduate of the Los Angeles Trade Technical College (California), talks about why he went back to college. He is now a fleet mechanic for AT&T.


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